Car Audio Bait and Switch - How to Avoid It

Bait and switch is the practice of luring a customer in with one product, usually at an extremely good price, with the intention of switching the customer to another product. Bait and switch is illegal but is difficult to prove. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) defines bait and switch this way:

Bait advertising is an alluring but insincere offer to sell a product or service which the advertiser in truth does not intend or want to sell. Its purpose is to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise, in order to sell something else, usually at a higher price or on a basis more advantageous to the advertiser. The primary aim of a bait advertisement is to obtain leads as to persons interested in buying merchandise of the type so advertised.

You can read the full article on bait advertising here.

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Usually it goes like this. You'll come in to get X brand of head unit and it's a very good brand at a very good price. This will usually be the lowest model in brand X's line. It will have very few features but it will have the name that you are looking for. What the salesman will then do is show you this model (if it's not out of stock). Then they will show you brand Y, usually an "off brand" with many more features for the same price. The problem is that the off brand is a "garbage brand" that has a high failure rate and is not of the same quality as brand X. The reason for doing this is that the margin (profit) on brand Y is much higher. If they had sold you the brand X piece at the $200 advertised price they might only make $5, but if they sell you the brand Y piece for $200 they will make $50. It's the same amount of money out of your pocket but their profit will be much higher. That's why they are running the bait and switch. Not because they don't want to sell brand X but because they really want to get you in the store so they can sell you brand Y. It's common for salesmen to get an extra commission on these units. The extra money is called a spiff and is usually a flat amount per unit rather tan a percentage.

There's no real way to absolutely avoid bait and switch but here are a few tips that will help.

Call Ahead and Get a Name

Before you go to the store, call ahead. Get the name of the person you are speaking to (make sure they work in the car audio department if it's a large store) and ask them about the advertisement you saw. Ask them how many are in stock and if they will hold one for you (unlikely). Let them know when you are coming and that you are going to ask to speak to them. Make sure they will be there when you show up. You want to make them accountable for the deal. This still will not guarantee that you will get the unit (unless they are willing to hold one for you) but it will increase your chances. They still might tell you that they had a rush on them before you got there or someone else just bought the last one "but here's another brand you might want to look at..."

When a Switch is Good

Not all switches are bait and switch. For example, if you come in to buy brand X that was advertised for $200 and the salesperson shows you another brand X unit for $220 with a lot more features. If those features are useful and are something you want then the salesperson has done you a favor by showing it to you. It's the salesperson's job to educate you about things you may not be aware of. If they had not showed you the extra features on the next model then you are the one who would be getting a lesser experience. There's an old sales saying that goes, "If you don't ask then you are saying no for the customer. The customer can say no for themselves.".

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